Roofs, FEMA, and the town financial update

The Wilton Board of Finance received an update on the roofing projects, the town status report, among the agenda items at its July 16 meeting.

First Selectman Bill Brennan stepped to the podium shortly after the meeting was called to order to announce that a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting has been awarded to the town of Wilton.

“This certificate of achievement is the highest form of recognition in government accounting and financial reporting, and it’s attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management,” Mr. Brennan said.

A plaque, presented by the Government Finance Officer Association, will be delivered to Chief Financial Officer Sandy Dennies.

With that aside, Mr. Brennan set about updating the board on the roofing projects at Comstock Community Center and Middlebrook School.

“There has been some misunderstanding and I really wanted to clarify it,” he said. “We did have some preliminary studies that were done by the school. We were a little skeptical of those numbers. They were low. So we hired a professional consultant, Watsky Associates. They did a complete evaluation and provided us with cost estimates.”

With all costs considered, the estimates from Watsky Associates were $715,000 for Comstock and $1,115,000 for Middlebrook. Included in these estimates were architecture and project management fees, as well as contingency fees.

After several other estimates from various firms, Turner Constuction had the winning bid at a total of $1,993,436 for both projects. A variance of approximately $163,000 versus the budget. Mr. Brennan stressed that this is still an estimate.

Inflation and appreciation are the explanation for the estimate rising between the Watsky and Turner estimates.

The Middlebrook project is already underway, while Comstock needs more time, in part due to students being in the building, and the presence of asbestos mitigation in the roof drains. A state Department of Health requirement says that students can not be in the building for the abatement of asbestos.

“The projects are basically on schedule,” Mr. Brennan said.

Ms. Dennies added a recommendation of using money that was designated for two capital projects that had excess funds available, totaling $162,500.

“Together I believe we’ll be able to make up the shortfall of the roof project without requesting any additional funds at this time,” she said.

The motion was carried unanimously by the attending board members. Carl Pforzheimer and Jeffrey Rutishauser had prior commitments, while Lynn Vanderslice participated via telephone.

Ms. Dennies returned to update the Town Status Report for fiscal year ’13.

While stressing that bills will be paid through Aug. 30, and receiving revenue for fiscal year 2013 as well, she spoke of “a substantial amount of cleanup going on.”

With regard to that, she said FEMA has been given an estimate for approximately $600,000 for Superstorm Sandy, as well as $90,000 from the snowstorm that she expects to receive as reimbursement for those events. These will be set up as receivables.

“This is an interesting year, because the storms were so bad,” she said. “They (FEMA) had such an incredible amount of paperwork to do. That’s why I have received the estimates. The receivables come in categories: salaries, overtime, equipment, and materials.”

Pressed by James Meinhold as to why this is being addressed now, Ms. Dennies said it was simply a question of finding time to address it.

“Dealing with FEMA has not been particularly easy, and their need for detail is extraordinary,” she said. “In addition to that, with the staffing that we have, the time just hasn’t been available.”

While there is a timetable to get all of the materials to FEMA, Ms. Dennies said “we’ll be fine.”

Pressed by board member Al Alper, she spoke in more detail as to some of the specifics and questions raised by FEMA.

“I’ll give you an example,” she said. “During storm Sandy, it’s very possible that one police officer stood or had a car parked blocking access to a road because of downed wires and a dangerous situation. Because the car wasn’t moving, and you have to match the vehicles and the equipment with who is actually doing the service, but the officer was there for eight hours, they don’t understand how that can possibly be. Why should they pay for a full officers’ salary if he’s not actually driving his car?

“They are very specific in their questions, and they are voluminous. We’ve had to have the state intercede on our behalf. They deal with contractual documents that we’ve got to go back and provide as as information that substantiate why those charges are showing up as they are.”

Ms. Vanderslice expressed concern that the town would not collect the money as Ms. Dennies had suggested, but the chief financial officer was firm that her estimate of approximately $700,000 was conservative.

“They will reimburse, based on the stated rules,” Ms. Dennies said. “I don’t have any doubt that we will be reimbursed for those costs that we incurred. No doubt.”

As she compared the current fiscal year to fiscal year ’12, she said it was “difficult to compare. Fiscal year ’12 has the audit adjustment in it. It’s easier to look as the clean numbers. The town has received $1.5 million in additional revenue from what was our adjusted budget compared to the actual. In the expenses, we have about $3 million available. These numbers are definitely subject to change.”

Of concern to her is the Board of Education, whom she described as being “definitely a million dollars over budget.”

“Can I make sure I heard that right?,” Ms. Vanderslice asked over the speaker phone. “You’re saying the Board of Ed is a million dollars over in total?”

Ms. Dennies assured the Board of Finance that she would talk with Finance Director Ken Post, who believes he “oversubscribed” active medical account claims, which would offset some of the deficit. An audit adjustment on special education would also offset outstanding funds.

“If Ken is correct, then a big chunk will be taken off of that negative you see,” she said. “The over budget will come down to about $100,000.”

Overall, Ms. Dennies said the town is “1.3 million in the black, but that is not the final number.”

The board decided on a budget guidance for fiscal year ‘15, as Ms. Vanderslice ran three different scenarios, considering the mill rate, operating funds, and the Board of Selectman and Board of Education at 1.75% each.

“My thinking is that we go with the BOS and BOE held at 1.75 percent as guidance at this point,” Board Chairman Warren Serenbetz. “It’s not locked in stone. A lot of things are going to change.”

“It’s set in stone,” Mr. Alpert said, joking with reporters and viewers on TV in a moment of levity.

“I think, realistically, to hold the mill rate at 1.75 for planning purposes would just give them too tight of a budget to try to hit,” Mr. Serenbetz said. “And operating funds, I just don’t like the 2.6 that it hits.”